As a family food expert, the number one question I’ve been asked over the years is whether my kids eat dessert every night. Okay, it’s actually the second most asked question after how do I get my kids to be less picky, but it’s the most asked question that has a clear cut answer. Yes, my kids eat dessert every night if they eat a healthy dinner first.

There are a couple of caveats — our desserts are not over-the-top sugar bombs and, it should be noted, my kids are in good health and are very balanced eaters who don’t typically snack on sugary foods, eat candy, or drink soda (or even juice) on the regular — but I even use dessert as a healthy foods “bribe” (in quotes because I don’t think of it as a bribe — for another post).

All that said, we have had one issue: Even just a little bit of sugar at 7 pm totally disrupts our bedtime routine. And it sucks, because by 7:30 pm, I’m done. Let’s just say that corralling two boys on a mini sugar high doesn’t bring out the best in me.

Related: Low-sugar baby cookie recipes that you can feel good sharing with your baby or toddler.

 

Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to start each day more calmly and with a positive attitude — it sets the tone! So instead of hitting snooze three times and then running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I’ve started going to bed earlier and consistently waking up with enough time to usher the boys through their morning unhurriedly. I also adjusted their morning routine to better set them up for success (more structure, a clear order in which they are to do things, and an earlier departure time so that there’s more free play in the school yard before class begins).

 

Kids and dessert: How frequently should you give desserts and when? Here's the surprising approach that works in my house | Cool Mom Eats

With major success in the morning, it was time to take on the evening, because I believe how you end the day sets the tone for a restful night. Since our bedtime routine is already pretty structured, the only big change I could see to make was to eliminate nighttime desserts. Would that alone make a huge difference?

YES! It totally did.

Instead of just completely doing away with dessert, though, I decided to give them their sweets in the afternoon, and three great, unexpected things came out of this change in our routine.

1. Because my kids are used to only mildly sugary snacks in the afternoon — we rarely snacked on ice cream or cake after school — they don’t expect anything too sugary, even though this now counts as dessert. Of course, they sometimes insist on something more decadent, but when I oblige…well, see number two.

2. Even before I changed our routine, I was always trying to manage the boys’ before-bed sugar intake, so our dessert portions have always been small. Surprisingly, I’ve been able to maintain that smaller portion, even though they’re eating dessert in the afternoon. Whereas before, on the rare occasion that we splurged on something sugary in the afternoon, they’d get a bigger portion. So basically, smaller portions of sugary stuff all around. Phew.

3. It turns out that sugar highs at 3 pm are way easier to handle than at 7 pm. I know — duh — but it’s hard to remember these things when you’re running your routine. I was always so dead set on carbs and protein after school. But now, they get a shot of sugar, run it off, and if they’re still hungry, get that healthier, protein-packed snack while they do their homework. And by dinner and bed time, the sugar has long worn off. It feels like food is much more aligned with their natural rhythm.

And — the big question — what happens if they don’t eat a healthy dinner at night? Afternoon dessert the next day is off. Carrot sticks, tortilla chips, and hummus will have to do.

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